Sutera (Bacopa)

An ideal hanging basket plant, these colourful flowers dazzle with their abundant blooms.

(Sutera) Bacopa Scopia Gulliver Lavender - photo: Graham Clarke
(Sutera) Bacopa Scopia Gulliver Lavender - photo: Graham Clarke

Rarely have we included a genus on HW’s Plant Focus pages with such confusion over its correct botanical and commercial naming.

Sutera is often referred to as Bacopa and most nurseries recognise this name. But, botanically, the true Bacopa is a separate but related genus (both belong to the snapdragon family, Scrophulariaceae). To add further confusion, the Copia series is often called Scopia while forms of Sutera cordata are sometimes listed as Suteranova, and the form known as the yellow Bacopa is actually Mecardonia, a quite separate genus.

Regardless of the genera and series confusion, these are all popular hanging basket and container plants because of their delicate flowers, which bloom in profusion, and the plants’ rampant growth.

Sutera is a tender South African plant that has only been available widely within the past decade, although the white form ‘Snowflake’ is much older. Its foliage is small and mid-green, and plants generally have a creeping habit. The flowers have five petals, and they are produced in quantity all summer.

If planted into borders, a single plant can cover an area of 60sq cm. When planted in a hanging basket, window box or other container it will cascade over the sides to form a sheet of flowers and foliage at least 30cm long. In addition to its use in mixed containers, Sutera is useful as a carpeting plant in pots of shrubs to cover the soil in summer.

The first forms commonly available were white, but pink and blue varieties are now widespread, and much energy has gone into breeding and development work. Because the volume of sales is so large, even a small percentage increase through the introduction of a new strain can reap huge rewards for the breeder.

Plants sometimes lose vigour towards the end of the season, but this is usually because they require more feeding. Liberal liquid feeding with a high-potash mix, and watering, will boost growth and the production of flowers. Deadheading is unnecessary.

Although seeds are sometimes available, plants are almost always grown from cuttings. These grow rapidly and it is easy to produce more plants by taking tip cuttings of shoots throughout spring and summer. They root quickly, and will be big enough to plant into baskets in a few months. Under frost-free glass, cuttings can be taken in late summer and overwintered for use next spring.

True plants of the Bacopa genus, on the other hand, are known as water hyssops. They are wet-soil or aquatic species. Bacopa monnieri is the most frequently seen: a tender, creeping perennial common to wetlands and muddy shores. Its leaves are thick and succulent-like, and its flowers are small, white, and with four or five petals. It is a popular aquarium plant.

What the specialists say

Wayne Eadey, production director, Delamore Young Plants, Cambridgeshire
Bacopas — or suteras — are the biggest and best range of basket plants for us. And they are superb. They haven’t been at their best this year — as with everything else — because of the lack of warm, sunny weather. However, in general they have still given a pretty good account of themselves.
In a normal year the flower power of Bacopa is huge. They will usually have a main flush and then withdraw for a while before coming back with yet more flowers. Garden centres sell masses of them in 9cm and 10cm pots and, of course, in preplanted mixed baskets. However, I have seen them on the Continent as great table decorations in restaurants and on patios.
Danziger of Israel is a breeder of these plants and brings out four or five new forms each year. It is fair to say that the colour improvements are getting less with each new range of introductions, but I know breeders are now looking at other merits such as flower size, scent, and so on.
Sutera cordata ‘Snowflake’ is the original unprotected variety and it is still the best by miles. Masses of small flowers make it such a dramatic plant. It represents some 50 per cent of our total sale of bacopas.

Anat Moshes, product manager, Danziger, Israel The market for Bacopa is growing due to excellent breeding and the continuing introduction of new varieties, presenting new colours, shapes and flower sizes with a very good and compact habit of growth.
This market was based mainly on generic varieties, unpatented, and with the new breeding we foresee very promising market growth. Danziger is currently (and had been for the past few years) leading the Bacopa market worldwide with its Scopia series, which has the largest range of varieties. Among them are the Gulliver varieties with huge flowers not seen in the market before.
This season, Danziger has introduced two new pink varieties. The most popular variety in the market today is Scopia Gulliver White. Our favourites are the ones with big flowers: Gulliver White, Gulliver Lavender and Gulliver Lilac.
However, the Scopia series includes 13 additional varieties in white, blue, and pink, and of medium to large flower size. All have a compact growth habit and a beautiful garden performance.

In practice

Wayne Gollick, manager, Plants Plus, Newcastle
Suteras are by far our biggest-selling hanging basket plant. We have always stocked the white form ‘Snowflake’ and every year we are growing more and more of the different coloured forms. We sell them in 10cm pots and they fly off the benches, both on the retail side and with our wholesale and cash-and carry-businesses.
We also plant up a few massive display baskets for our retail area. These are not for sale, but they make wonderful show pieces and set off the basket plants perfectly.

Species and cultivars

The following may be found in nursery catalogues under either Sutera or Bacopa and the Copia series is some-times listed as Scopia. We are listing them here under the name most commonly used for them in the UK and, where possible, also in accordance with the RHS Plant Finder 2007-2008.
• S. African Sunset or ‘Rarosil’ carries muted red flowers with a yellow centre and dark foliage.
• S. Abunda Blue Improved displays blue flowers.
• S. ‘Bermuda Sky’ carries masses of blue flowers in summer and autumn on a bushy, upright form.
• S. Cabana ‘Trailing White’ produces long, spreading stems bearing white flowers in summer to early autumn.
• S. Candy Floss features a mass of strong lilac flowers on top of bushy, vigorous trailing foliage.
• S. Cinderella produces apricot, strawberry or salmon flowers
• S. Copia ‘Dark Pink’ displays dark pink flowers on semi-trailing stems. It flowers from June to September.
• S. Copia ‘Golden Leaves’ carries golden yellow leaves and lavender coloured blooms; compact.
• S. Copia (or B. Scopia) Gulliver Lavender displays large flowers of pale lavender on a semi-trailing form.
• S. Copia (or B. Scopia) Gulliver Lilac features lilac-coloured blooms and mid-green leaves.
• S. Copia (or B. Scopia) Gulliver White displays large white flowers, and grows vigorously.
• S. Copia (or B. Scopia) ‘Pink Touch’ features large, light-pink blooms with purple markings and flowers from June.
• S. cordata Lavender Showers produces pale lilac blooms.
• S. cordata ‘Pink Domino’ carries trailing stems dotted with delicate pink flowers.
• S. cordata ‘Olympic Gold’ features bright yellow and green variegated leaves and white flowers.
• S. cordata ‘Snowflake’ is the original Sutera/Bacopa emerging from the wilds of South Africa. A mass of small white flowers is carried on green trailing foliage.
• S. ‘Giant Cloud’ produces trailing white flowers throughout summer.
• S. Sea Mist displays pale-lilac flowers through the summer and is a compact bushy trailer.
• S. Suteranova series includes: Big Pink with pale blush-pink flowers on green foliage; Big White with white blooms on a trailing habit; Big Blue with a strong blue-lilac flower colour and green foliage; and Gold Leaf White with bright golden trailing foliage and pearly white flowers.
• B. Cabana ‘Trailing Blue’ carries long, spreading stems bearing ice-blue flowers.
• B. Scopia ‘Golden Leaves White’ displays deep-yellow leaves and white; compact.
• B. Scopia ‘Great Blue’ features mid-blue flowers and green leaves; good trailing plant.
• B. Scopia ‘Great Blue Lake’ is one of the newer forms with bright blue flowers.
• B. Scopia ‘Great Pink Shade’ produces rich pink flowers; good trailing plant.
• B. Scopia ‘Great White Improved’ is one of the top-selling forms with white vigorously growing flowers
• B. Scopia ‘Gulliver Snow’ offers probably the largest flowers of any of the whites.
• Mecardonia ‘Goldflake’ is new to the market and closely related to the Sutera genus — indeed it is commonly referred to as yellow Bacopa. It produces large, bell-shaped yellow flowers covering trailing green foliage.

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